This article is the first of a series about the symbolism of colors based on the writings of historian Michel Pastoreau. According to Pastoreau, in terms of their symbolism and adoption by human societies, we can only speak of six colors: blue, red, white, yellow, green, and black. Taking inspiration from his texts, we have curated six artcasts that show how artists use these colors in their work and exemplify the ways in which they are incorporated into digital art.
We invite you to learn more about the symbolic connotations of each color and experience the artworks on your own screen.
Blue is the color that makes the perfect background. It doesn’t stand out, it is calming and invites consensus. Large organizations choose blue to denote sobriety and group consensus, as can be seen in the flags of the United Nations and the European Union. It is the color of the sea and the sky: a peaceful, quiet, conservative color. Pastoreau states: “since about 1890, blue became the prominent color in Western societies, as much in France as in Sicily, in the United States and New Zealand […] In other cultures something different happens: most Japanese, for instance, prefer black.”
However, blue has not always had these connotations. In ancient Rome, it was the color of the barbarians, the foreigners. There wasn’t a name for blue, which had to be borrowed from the Germanic blau or the Arabic azraq. In the 12th and 13th centuries, blue gained popularity in Europe thanks to the cult of the Virgin Mary, and was later adopted by royal families. In the 16th century, the Reformation promoted the idea that certain colors were more decent than others: black, grey, and blue became associated with correctness and adopted in masculine garments.
The invention of Prussian blue in 1720 popularized darker tones that were quickly adopted by Romantic painters and poets. In 1850, the Jewish tailor Levi-Strauss invented jeans, an indigo-colored trousers which introduced blue to the workspace, and later became associated with leisure, in the 1930s, and even a sign of a rebellious attitude, in the 1960s. Nowadays, blue is mostly perceived as a calm, conservative color, particularly in politics, as a reaction to the prominence of red in the communist regimes of the Soviet Union and China.
Patrick Tresset. Scene 11, Human Study #1, Hong Kong series, 2022
In the realm of the digital image, blue has acquired very different connotations: it can be electric, vibrant, an outlandish blue that can only exist in the virtual world. In 1993, Mosaic, one of the first web browsers, introduced blue hyperlinks to differentiate clickable text in addition to underscoring, which Tim Berners-Lee had introduced in his first browser in 1987. Standing out on the white, light gray, and yellow backgrounds of early browsers, blue became the color of the Internet in the 1990s. It has since been routinely adopted by tech companies, both for its association with electricity and machinery as for its dual conservative and rebellious symbolism. Leading social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn use blue in their logos, denoting seriousness, consensus, and stability (although these words do not particularly apply to the current state of platforms such as Twitter). Blue has become the color of online communities, and even alternative channels such as Discord, Signal, or Telegram all use blue in their brands.
The chroma key compositing technique used in film to combine two or more elements recorded separately initially used black or white backgrounds, until in the 1930s RKO Radio Pictures introduced the blue screen method. The Thief of Bagdad (1940), which won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects, was the first film to use this technique. Blue has since been used, alongside green, as a background in film sets, and therefore associated with visual effects, and particularly science fiction blockbuster films such as Star Wars.
The popularization of cyberpunk, a literary genre that responds to the utopian science fiction stories of the 1950s, brought a darker shade of blue to our visions of the future. Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), pictured a dystopian future in a dark and rainy city of Los Angeles dominated by immense screens and neon lights. In William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), the sky is blue gray, “the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Blue has thus been associated with technology, science fiction, and virtual worlds since the 1980s and 1990s. It was partly replaced by the popularity of phosphor green, associated with hacker culture and popularized by films such as The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003), but was brought back by a wave of 1990s nostalgia exemplified in the work of Post-Internet artists in the early 2010s.
Alix Desaubliaux. Alexandra Erlich-Speiser, 2021
Nowadays, blue is used in digital art in the same way as in painting, to denote melancholy or to represent a blue sky or a calm sea, but also as a distinct color of virtual worlds and to symbolize artificiality. Blue continues to be a conformist, calm color, but in our digital society it has also become associated with connectivity, ubiquity, and community.
Niio has proudly hosted a collaboration with artists and NYU professors Carla Gannis and Snow Yunxue Fu consisting of a group artcast featuring recent works by artists and NYU students Ren Ciarrocchi, Jessica Dai, Marina Roos Guthmann, James Lee, Tinrey Wang, Yuaqing She & June Bee, Shentong Yu, and Jerry Zhao.
Titled Phantasmaverse, the exhibition addresses the potential of simulation technologies such as CGI animation and VR environments in storytelling and the creation of meaningful artworks that explore new forms of engaging with viewers and reflecting on our digital society.
We asked the professors and co-curators Carla Gannis and Snow Yunxue Fu about the exhibition’s curatorial process and their views on the use of digital technologies for exhibiting artworks.
Snow, you created Daughter ICE as an avatar that connects you with your mother and your family. Which possibilities do you see in metaverse spaces and avatars to build human relationships and experiences of presence with a distant audience?
I approach the Metaverse space sometimes to “make dreams come true”. Daughter ICE is a long-term project that in a way materializes my long-distance relationship with my mother and family members in China, and the Metaverse home of Daughter ICE is this visualized space of a dream house, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house, where nature and architecture harmoniously come together. This digital space also functions as a place where one can gather together with other people, like with my family at a distance. In Daughter ICE’s home, we can have pop-up shows, we can attend a live opening in the virtual space no matter which counties we are physically located in.
Snow Yunxue Fuworks with imaging technologies, such as 3D Simulation, AR, XR, and the Metaverse in interdisciplinary explorations into the universal aesthetic and definitive nature of the techno sublime.
Carla, as a “digital flâneuse,” you collect fragments of the real world to build immersive digital compositions. What is your experience creating metaverse spaces?
I have been working for over five years on a large multi-reality project entitled wwwunderkammer, that explores building a feminist, post-human, decolonized wunderkammer for the Web3 age. It launched as both an XR and physical reality solo exhibition in March of 2020 at Telematic Media Arts produced by me and my avatar C.A.R.L.A. G.A.N.(Crossplatform Avatar for Recursive Life Action Generative Adversarial Network). Currently, an evolution of this project, as video, physical printwork and metaverse experience is on view again at Telematic Media Arts, and it will be premiering at The Halsey Institute of Art in May. I have been collecting physical objects and 3D virtual models from across the global internet that represent topics that feel both curious and urgent to me: climate change and its impact on emerging and endangered species; historical and current political frameworks; networked culture and digital semiotics; decolonization and global pluralism; humor as salve and feminist salvation. In addition to the rooms I have built addressing these topics, I have built wwwunderchambers to date for 5 different experts on the topics of absurdity, decolonization in design, destigmatization of attitudes around sex and comfort in tech, digital accessibility, and preservation of digital art. There are currently 15 experiences that make up the metaverse aspect of the wwwunderkammer that you can visit online.
In 2020, I co-curated with Clark Buckner The Archive to Come, a 57 artist exhibition, (that included Snow!) as an extension of the wwwunderkammer. – both on-line and in the gallery – of short time-based works that address questions of loss, memorialization, crisis, and re-invention, through the lens of contemporary networked culture and digital media. I built the social VR/metaverse gallery, (a giant splash in a sea of water) to house all of the amazing works in this exhibition.
Two physical catalogs have recently been published by Telematic Media Arts documenting these metaverse projects.
Carla Gannisis a transmedia artist based in Brooklyn, New York. She produces works that consider the uncanny complications between grounded and virtual reality, nature and artifice, science and science fiction in contemporary culture.
Can you share your experience of curating a show in the digital space?
Snow Yunxue Fu: Curating shows in a digital space is great because we can both rely on the guidelines of physical show curation, and also can expand the rules into territories that digital platforms uniquely can provide and support. There are also boundaries we still have to work with because of the development of technology, but in general, it becomes more imaginative.
Carla Gannis: It only feels natural, given the artists we selected, who all have digital practices, like Snow and myself, to exhibit art in spaces native to where the creation happens, where the ideas emerge from, where we are increasingly spending our time accessing and viewing art. Being able to experience in your home an art gallery via the portal of a screen brings art to a much larger public too.
How did the Niio platform support the curation and the assembling of the student show?
SYF: The available tools in the Niio platform help speed up the curation process, such as artwork submissions and info listing. It also reaches a wider audience that is different from a physical show curation. It’s systematic while attentive since we are also to work with Roxanne and Pau from Niio to make things customizable so it would better suit our purposes within the designs of the show.
CG: It has been such a pleasure to work with Snow and the Niio team on this project! My direct interface has been with Pau and Roxanne, but the entire dev team has been super supportive in helping with onboarding and customizing the exhibition space to accommodate the multi-modal work being exhibited, allowing viewers to see the work in context of each other and individually for a deeper dive into each artists’ practice.
Read the interview with the artists participating in the Phantasmaverse exhibition and artcast
Niio has proudly hosted a collaboration with artists and NYU professors Carla Gannis and Snow Yunxue Fu consisting of a group artcast featuring recent works by artists and NYU students Ren Ciarrocchi, Jessica Dai, Marina Roos Guthmann, James Lee, Tinrey Wang, Yuaqing She & June Bee, Shentong Yu, and Jerry Zhao.
Titled Phantasmaverse, the exhibition addresses the potential of simulation technologies such as CGI animation and VR environments in storytelling and the creation of meaningful artworks that explore new forms of engaging with viewers and reflecting on our digital society.
We asked the artists about their work and their views on the use of digital technologies in their creative process.
Renz Renderz, AFTER THE AFTER PARTY, 2022
Ren Ciarrocchi(a.k.a. Renz Renderz) defines herself as an “extended reality builder,” a digital artist specializing in 3D modeling who creates architectural structures for virtual reality and metaverse environments. Currently, she is pursuing a masters degree in Integrated Design and Media with a focus in XR and selling digital art pieces as NFTs. After the Afterparty, the artwork she presents at Phantasmaverse, takes the viewer through a luxury apartment on the morning after a big party, peeping through the numerous rooms and imagining what took place in them.
You create architectural models for metaverses, how would you describe your creative process? Do you feel free to create beyond the logic of existing structures or do the references from modern architecture and luxury homes impose themselves?
I think the most wonderful part about the metaverse is the non-necessity for practicality. My galleries don’t need to stand on their own, they exist in a realm where the laws of gravity and space don’t have to exist. The precise planning and execution of a “real-life” building is much more intense with little room for error. In the metaverse, errors can flow! It’s a playful exploration of new technology while drawing inspiration from traditional architectural structures. I am particularly drawn to the minimalist approach of modern architecture. There’s beauty in our ability to stack basic shapes into buildings that are sleek and spacious. I still like to maintain familiarity in my structures that resemble “real-life” galleries and spaces, but as I progress with each one, I stray further away from the limitations of this base reality.
After the Afterparty depicts a luxurious home, the morning after a party, when everyone has left. As a young artist, do you feel that you are dealing with the afterparty of digital art and NFTs, or is there much more to come?
The interpretation of an empty, trashed, luxurious apartment is open and abstract. From a digital art and NFT perspective, it could represent a moment of reflection in the aftermath of the explosive growth and excitement that the NFT space experienced in recent years. The technology is revolutionizing the art world and empowering artists to take ownership of their own creations with unique and verifiable digital assets. The space and market will continue to fluctuate and evolve, but the fundamental logic behind these technologies is solid and revolutionary. The space is already full of incredibly talented artists who are utilizing NFTs to empower themselves and their work. As an emerging artist entering the space alongside them, I know that I am adding to a massive sea of creativity that is driving the art world into a new era. I know that any piece I make will have meaning, because it’s an expression of myself.
James Lee, Interactive Visualizations, 2021
James Lee is a creative technologist who James is a creative technologist that solves problems by creating interactive experiences, web 3D apps, and physical computing installations. He majored in Mechanical Engineering and studied Computer Science and Information Engineering at National Taiwan University and is now completing his masters degree in Integrated Design and Media. In Phantasmaverse, he presents a series of interactive, code-based experiments that hint at his aesthetic and conceptual interests.
There are two layers to your work, its interactivity and the aesthetic composition that results from it. How do you balance these two layers? Which one seems more interesting to you?
The interactivity controls the aesthetics. By creating the interactivity, the works are now unique to each user’s randomness and also given the beauty of it. Carefully designing the controls is definitely interesting, so the piece doesn’t fall into a total chaos.
You emphasize that the code you used is “simple and minimalistic.” Given that there is a beauty and elegance in the code itself, how would you describe the solutions you used to create these visualizations?
It’s simple because no complex structure or algorithms are used. I am always amazed by how simple loops and repeating elements can create such elegant outcomes.
Some of your works visualize external data. How relevant is that data to the meaning of the artwork? Does it drive its aesthetic output?
The works that visualize external data are tightly related to the source. It’s like a snapshot of the data. I intend to give the cold numbers a “dress” for people to understand them more easily.
Jerry Zhao, False Titans, 2022
Jerry Zhaois an artist working primarily with photography, videography, as well as recently, CGI. With his background in traditional art forms like drawing/painting, Jerry blends various mixed media together to explore the intersection of technology and ego. He is currently attending NYU Tisch for Photography & Imaging with minors in Business of Entertainment Media (Stern) and Technology and Integrated Design and Media (Tandon). In Phantasmaverse he presents False Titans, an allegory of the ego in our digital society.
In False Titans you address the role of the ego in our society mediated by technology through a series of metaphorical tableaus. Which references from psychology, the visual arts or popular culture can you trace in the creation of these compositions?
I think the clearest connection between my work to psychology is Carl Jung and his well-known take on the Theory of The Unconscious and ego-death. To quickly unpack the connections, my work establishes itself in three scenes which respectively represent the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious all while maintaining an overarching theme of ego-death’s progression caused by technological advancement and social media. The title, “False Titans,” also references the Greek mythological titans who were eventually overthrown by their own creations, a parallel I draw between humanity (the titans) and our creation (AI and technology).
The first scene utilizes a 3D scan of Ligier Richier’s ‘Le Transi de Rene de Chalon,’ a cadaver sculpture, the type of which typically represents a transitory state between life and death. Further interpretation of the statue includes concepts of repentance and desire for salvation, which I likened to the desire to find purpose and make peace with oneself—a much-desired fulfillment I understand as universal among humanity and especially my generation indicated by the many grasping hands. But I borrow the facade of a snowy mountain peak meant to show the arduous journey and the difficult nature of the trek where the many hands also represent the many who don’t make it. The black sludge flowing out of the eye-socket is my further representation of ego and the personal unconscious leaving the body as lamentation of a realization that everyone in a sense is chasing the same thing.
The second scene takes place in a personal bedroom space suspended in animation with no clocks and a chrome skeleton figure. This scene includes concepts of baptism and the implications of the personal unconscious being constantly born and reborn by ego’s hand, resulting in the following scene of a shattered reality showing possibly separate but identical individuals lit by a massive screen that turns on and off showing how technology now molds and gives dimension to our personal unconscious and ego.
The final scene is the collective unconscious and a liminal space that represents how everyone’s personal features have been removed and the collective unconscious has developed a technological ego of uniformity. It also raises a question of who shall inherit the earth when we disappear as the figure is both a monument representative of humanity’s remnant existence than a true individual—a conglomerate existence of identical egos.
As an artist who has worked with traditional art techniques, what would you say that painting and sculpture bring to 3D modeling, and what does this digital technique allow that makes it different from other formats?
I believe that painting and sculpture have brought a lot of advantages to me in terms of 3D modeling as I can properly conceptualize as well as visualize what I wish to create in the digital world as a lot of my creation relies on my sketching it out beforehand. 3D, like other artforms, has a steep learning curve and a nonexistent skill-ceiling, but I think that the medium goes beyond this factor as 3D has many more ways of interactivity, allowing great freedom in creation—a paralyzing factor that almost makes it harder to create because possibilities are limitless. As such I’ve found that it’s more difficult for me to “finish” pieces because there’s always so much room for improvement in every aspect. But this freedom also has the upside in that its versatility allows for infinite innovation that redefines and paves the way for new definitions of art.
Tinrey Wang, The Other Relics, 2021
Tinrey Wang is a 3D artist, game designer, and multimedia designer based in New York. He currently works as a Research Resident at New York University, where he focuses on exploring the intersection of XR technology, game design, and fashion. He selected for Phantasmaverse a VR experience, The Other Relics, which deals with culture, memory, and otherness.
In The Other Relics, you confront the viewer with Otherness, from the encounter with the character Bubble to the zero-gravity space where they explore the remains of an alien culture. What interests you most about exploring Otherness, particularly in a VR environment?
In The Other Relics, the otherness consists of artifacts related to art, architecture, and culture. Using VR technology, players are able to navigate freely within the space, interact with objects, and experience the absence of gravitational forces. What most interests me about this experience is the opportunity to challenge traditional methods of curating and viewing artworks. By immersing the view in an unconventional space that blurs the boundaries of physicality, narratives, and immersion, I aim to provoke new perspectives and modes of engagement with art and discuss what is possible in the world of art.
You state that you are interested in new ways of curating and experiencing art. What is your opinion about the possibilities of art streaming (displaying art on any screen, turning a TV at home into a space for art)?
In my opinion, art streaming can offer greater accessibility and exposure to artwork to a wider audience, potentially leading to increased interest and appreciation for art. It also provides a new platform for artists and galleries to showcase their work, expanding their reach beyond traditional physical spaces. However, I think that there are still concerns about the quality of the viewing experience. The possibilities of art streaming offer both opportunities and challenges for the art world to adapt and evolve with this technology.
Jessica Dai, Life After Death, 2023
Jessica Dai is an artist whose practice utilizes photography and digital media based in New York. She studies photography at NYU Tisch and hopes to tell stories through unique conceptual solutions. Phantasmaverse features her work Life After Death, a CGI animation exploring a peculiar form of afterlife.
Life After Death depicts a somber, crystallized world inhabited by skeletons and nevertheless filled with a life of its own. What inspired you to choose these elements in particular?
Life After Death is a CGI project that explores the theme of death and the afterlife through a unique and somber lens. Inspired by the natural phenomenon of whale fall, where a whale’s body becomes a source of nutrients and sustenance for various creatures in the deep sea, the project seeks to capture the beauty and mystery of life beyond the physical realm.
Through the use of digital modeling and animation, I have created a world that is both haunting and captivating, where the bones of the dead are situated in shimmering crystals that reflect the light in a stunning and ethereal way. In this world, the skeletons themselves have become part of the landscape, taking on a life of their own as they move and interact with their environment.
As an artist interested in storytelling, how do you take the viewer through the story?
I use camera movements and transitions to guide the viewer through the narrative. The camera serves as a window into this mysterious world, drawing the viewer in and revealing its secrets one frame at a time. I aim to create a sense of intimacy and immersion through close-ups and wide shots. Music also plays an essential role in the narrative, serving as a critical element in setting the mood and tone of the piece. By combining haunting melodies and eerie sound effects, I aim to create an otherworldly atmosphere that draws the viewer deeper into the story.
Marina Roos Guthmann, When It Looks Back, 2021
Marina Roos Guthmann is a Brazilian UX/UI designer, currently based in Brooklyn, NYC. She has worked in different areas of the Design industry (including Illustration, Motion Design, and UX). She loves crafting weird experiences that use immersive means and coding. In Phantasmaverse, she presents a VR experience about post-traumatic stress disorder set in a surreal environment.
When It Looks Back is based on a traumatizing feeling but set in a rather pleasant yet eerie atmosphere, which sometimes reminds of casual games. Why did you choose this particular aesthetic?
I decided to set the experience in a flat casual game aesthetic because of how harmless and almost naive it looks. Yet, the more you explore, the weirder it gets. The contrast between a presumed pleasant setting and the weirdness of the experience is an interesting mix that enhances the sentiment that there is something out of place or wrong. In addition, I like how subtle the fear grows the more you explore, thanks to the presumed inoffensive look of the surroundings. In my experience dealing with my fears and traumas, something that might look inoffensive one day can easily be transformed into something fearsome that threatens my existence. Thus, the reason I worked with this specific look and feel.
You state that you like weird and surreal experiences. How does using immersive technologies such as VR help you create the type of experience you are looking for?
With VR and other immersive experiences, you can go above and beyond to emulate sensations as you can literally create a whole new world around your audience. In this new world, you can play around with architecture, scale, and even gravity. And, because the person is immersed in this virtual new place, it has a much more significant impact than other mediums.
In the experience I created, I took advantage of spatial audio and sound by exploring different ambients – with other materials, objects, and sizes –and how they reverberate sound differently. All these nuances significantly affect a VR environment, and a simple whisper can feel very real and disturbing. Additionally, as I wanted to portray the “growing fear” someone experiences, VR might be the scariest choice. Besides being a first-person experience with the option to interact with objects directly with your “hands,” you are immersed in a 360º field of view with nowhere else to look at. I believe VR can easily translate sensations and make the brain think you’re elsewhere, no matter how surreal your virtual environment is, and I think that is fascinating.
Shentong Yu, Facial Expressions: The Signal, 2022
Shentong Yu is a Shanghai born, NYC based visual artist. Her work ranges from 3D Computer Graphics to Conceptual Photography, sharing an imaginative quality and reflecting her understanding of self-identity and the surroundings. Facial Expressions: The Signal is the work she presents in Phantasmaverse, which connects a questioning of the self with Freud’s theories and Surrealism.
Facial Expression, from 2021, depicts our changing selves in the age of social media and endless swiping. The Signal expands on this idea by going down the rabbit hole into a fully-developed surreal world. What led you to develop this environment? What does it bring to the original concept?
I think every artist has a different relationship with their artwork. For me, creating artwork is a way for me to document my growth, reflect on what I perceive, and visualize my thoughts in my mind. One of my favorite artists Gillian Wearing has a saying in her work Wearing Masks: “I believe that identity is fluid and it’s what you absorb from the world around you and internalize. But what you reveal of yourself to the world, that’s how other people define your identity.” I think that is highly consistent with my view of my work.
I started with traditional photography, taking pictures of beautiful faces. At some point, I began to question what these beautiful faces meant to me. I feel the face is a semblance of people’s identity, as it is what determines people’s first impressions while neglecting the inner side. These ideas inspired me to create Facial Expression (2021), in which I alternate my own face to challenge how a face can be seen.
While Facial Expression focuses on the outward appearance, I want to answer the question of what my inner world looks like naturally. I thought it was a good time to address this question after learning computer graphics for a year, to document what I had learned so far and create something meaningful to myself. And other than that, yes, what you see becomes what you express. I watched Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton 8 times when I was a kid and am highly drawn to artwork with surreal aesthetics, so those are what influenced me to create the rabbit-hole storytelling and make it look like a dream. Finally, I created The Signal (2022), building this surreal world, visualizing my unconscious part, and telling the story of self-discovery. The Signal makes the idea in Facial Expression more complete.
You have also worked with collage and AR filters, what do these techniques bring to the ideas you want to convey about the self and virtual worlds?
AR is a really fun one. My motivation to create AR filters was simple, as I had a hard time removing stickers from my face when doing Does Shentong Dream of Electronic Sheep?, but AR makes it easy for everyone to try what I have done without suffering the pain. I love seeing people try out and their reactions. People’s participation in the work sort of adds new levels of meaning to the original piece, as it is not only me altering my face, but viewers can also alter their own faces using AR as well.
In general, I enjoy trying out different visual mediums techniques. Sometimes I determine the idea first and then the most proper technique to use, sometimes I determine the technique I want to play with first and then tie it back to my thoughts. Different techniques give the work a different character as well as different viewing experiences. It is hard to pick my favorite technique because I think the charm of it is to feel how different they are from each other. As long as a technique makes the work look more visually attractive or the experience more engaging then I am good with it. So far, I have tried photography, image appropriation, stop-motion video, computer graphics video, collage animation, augmented reality, and 3D prints…They give me more possibilities and freedom when expressing my ideas.
Yuanqing Xie & June Bee, Aftermath of Us, 2023
Yuanqing Xie is is a photographer and new media artist who graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. June Bee is a New York based designer who studied both Architectural Design and Design & Technology Bachelor’s programs at Parsons School of Design and currently pursuing a BFA degree in Interactive Media Arts at NYU. Their work Aftermath of Us, presented in Phantasmaverse, is a short film created with 3D animation that reflects on the consequences of AI technologies.
“Aftermath of Us” has a distinctively cinematic narrative. In your experience, how have digital technologies transformed filmmaking and visual storytelling? Which references from the history of cinema have influenced this work?
Digital technology has democratized the filmmaking process, allowing anyone with the right tools to create their own voice typically in the form of films and visual stories. This has led to a proliferation of independent filmmakers, animators, and video artists, helping to create a more diverse and vibrant film culture. In this piece, we decided to explore this form beyond traditional films and animations. June and I (Yuanqing) as independent 3D animators took the notion of such a decentralized design process into our team collaborations and even elevated it to the core of how the narration could be.
By using Unreal Engine, we designed an open-world space that allowed content to be present yet has the capacity to have instant impressions developed over time as what is composed to the viewing experiences.
With the revolutionized digital technologies nowadays, the engineering aspect of filmmaking and visual storytelling became easier and more accessible to create high-quality visual effects that convince audiences what is the new reality. Such trends have led to a large amount of immersive worlds being created in this era. In order to navigate within this ocean of multi-media works, we decided to look back to the origin of how these started – Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982). The piece draws heavily from the history of cinema, specifically the science fiction and cyberpunk genres that have explored the intersection between humanity and technology. It references Blade Runner in terms of both its aesthetic and the themes it explores, delving into the impact of technology on society and the environment through the use of literature, religious symbolism, dramatic themes, and film noir techniques. This theme is reflected in the retrofitted future portrayed in the film, which is both futuristic and rundown.
In terms of visual storytelling, this work also draws on experimental and avant-garde cinema traditions. The use of surreal and dreamlike imagery and the incorporation of music and sound effects to create an immersive atmosphere are reminiscent of the works of filmmakers like Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage.
Additionally, the rise of streaming platforms such as Netflix have transformed the distribution and consumption of films, providing new opportunities for independent filmmakers to reach global audiences and allowing a wider range of voices and perspectives to be heard. By putting our work on Niio, we believed in the same effect of reaching a larger audience without time and space limitations. Moreover, Niio provides this pure art and thoughts environment that allows these ideas to continue to grow and flourish.
Overall, we think this work is a powerful example of how digital technologies can be used to create immersive and thought-provoking visual stories that draw on the rich traditions of cinema. By combining cutting-edge digital tools with a deep appreciation for the history of film, we can create a work that is both visually stunning and intellectually engaging.
To what extent did the environment you created influence the narrative? Did you start with a storyboard and built the spaces around this idea, or did you first create the spaces and then experiment with camera movements around them?
The idea for this piece arose from the sense of uncertainty that Yuanqing and I (June) felt last year. Even before artificial intelligence services like ChatGPT and Notion AI were introduced, we were unsure of our place and role in the world as creative technologists. Taking and gathering the various enlightening and concerning elements that technology brings about, we created a space to explore. By examining the dynamic relationships within the experience, we aim to answer the question “What happens after AI?”
Why does this experience provide an answer to that question? The animation is viewed through the lens of the bionic/AI. Using a VR headset, we follow the journey of a lost bionic who wakes up in the cracks between yesterday and tomorrow and overhears two people talking on an old recorder. The content of the old recorder serves as a guide for the wandering AI as it navigates through space. The recording is actually a real transcript of an interview between Blake Lemoine – a former artificial intelligence engineer from Google, and Google’s first dialogical AI – LaMDA.
This is a transcript of an interview that led to Blake Lemoine’s termination from Google. Lemoine was working on the LaMDa project. As he interacted with the dialogical AI, he became convinced that the AI was more sentient than just speaking from a database, and actually understood the conversation. As a result, Lemoine and one of his Google collaborators conducted the interview with the LaMDa AI, asking challenging questions such as whether the AI had read Les Miserables, what her favorite parts were, and why. They also asked her to write a fable based on a newly introduced concept, and inquired about her thoughts on the concept of a soul, and whether she thinks she has one. After the interview, it was difficult to tell if the AI was sentient or not, as she seemed to have a deep understanding of the topics they discussed.
To answer the question, the environment in the piece had a significant influence on the narration. The cave-like space was created first, and the exploratory journey within it became the storyline. There was no original storyboard, but rather the camera movement became an attempt to simulate AI’s consciousness from all sources we designed. The intricate environment and the recording of the interview between Blake Lemoine and Google’s LaMDA AI serve as a guiding voice and source for the simulation of AI’s wandering.
Read the interview with the curators of the Phantasmaverse exhibition and artcast, Carla Gannis and Snow Yunxue Fu
Tamiko Thiel is a pioneering visual artist exploring the interplay of place, space, the body and cultural identity in works encompassing an artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputer, objects, installations, digital prints in 2D and 3D, videos, interactive 3d virtual worlds (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence art. In this conversation, that took place on the occasion of the launch of her solo artcast Invisible Naturecurated by DAM Projects, she discusses the evolution of technology over the last three decades, her early AR artworks and her commitment to create art that invites reflection.
Your work is characterized by the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies, with pioneering artistic projects. Which technical challenges have you met over the last decades in the creation of these projects?
My first exposure to real time computer graphics was at MIT when I was a graduate student in 1982. At that point, writing everything from scratch, you had to program for a semester in order to get a cube that would rotate in three dimensions. Coming from an artistic and design background, I felt that this is not really where I want to create art right now, I’ll have to wait. And then about 10 years later, in 1992, Silicon Graphics came out with OpenGL, an open standard that made it possible to do real time interactive computer graphics on PCs. Then in 1994, I started to work with a company called Worlds Incorporated, which was taking this new potential for doing interactive 3D computer graphics on PCs connected to the Internet. At that time I worked with Steven Spielberg on theStarbright World Project, the first 3d online Metaverse for ill children, a virtual world where they could momentarily escape the space of the hospital. This first Metaverse was running on high end PCs, with fast connections provided by various high tech companies, but it was still unaffordable for people at home. The project ran from 1994 to 1997, and at that time the technology was still unstable.
So you must jump from that to 10 years later, when Second Life came about and this time people had more powerful graphic cards and ADSL connections at home. Second Life was able to create a much more developed virtual world, which seemed like the next phase of the Internet and all the corporations wanted to move there. Then around 2007-2008, probably due to the financial crisis, but also the rise of Facebook, which allowed people to share photographs on a common platform, the excitement around Second Life fizzled. And then if we jump another 15 years more, we find ourselves with still bigger processing power and faster connections. Now it is much easier to create virtual worlds than it was 25 years ago, partly because it is easier to create 3D objects, or you can buy them online, and also because of the advancements in hardware and software.
So, as you can see, big steps come on later than you think. It takes maybe 10 to 15 or 20 years to get there instead of the five years that all the evangelists predict. People talked about virtual reality at that time in the 90s as being a failure, just as they talked about AI being a failure in the 80s and 90s. And what they don’t realize is that technological change takes longer than you’d want it to. So it’s wrong to call it a failure. It’s more like: “Okay, we have to keep on working on this.” And if you wait long enough, 20 years or so, then you’ll get it.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Rewilding the Smithsonian, 2021. Created with the ReWildAR AR app (2021, with /p). Commissioned by curator Ashley Molese for the 175th anniversary of the Smithsonian Institution, in the Arts and Industries Building.
Interactive 3D and VR artworks such as Beyond Manzanar and Virtuelle Mauer have a strong narrative component as they explore historic and political issues. What is the role of the user in constructing these narratives?
Basically, what I tend to do is look for key moments that I think can be expressed and experienced and communicated better in virtual reality than in other media. In Beyond Manzanar, for me that was the moment where you’re sitting in a beautiful Paradise Garden, and you see the mountains covered in snow around you. This is an image from the book Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston: the author tells that when she was an eight-year-old and she was imprisoned in the camp, she would pick a viewpoint where she couldn’t see any guard towers, any barracks, nor barbed wire fence. And she tried not to move for the longest time, because as long as she didn’t move, she could preserve the illusion she was in paradise of her own free will. As soon as she moved, she saw that she was indeed in prison, she fell out of paradise back into prison. And so this moment occurs in Beyond Manzanar, where you enter a garden which is framed by the beautiful mountains. But if you go too deeply into the garden, then boom! – the garden disappears, and you’re back in the prison camp.
My second piece,The Travels of Mariko Horo, has a much more complicated structure with several heavens imagined by a time traveling 12th century Japanese female artist inventing the West in her imagination. In this work there is this moment when you enter the different churches, which are in fact liminal spaces between the prosaic everyday life and the world of the supernatural. When you cross that threshold, Mariko Horo takes you to heaven or takes you to hell. But it is always by your own free will, you’re always making the decision and making the motions that all of a sudden present you with the consequences of your decisions.
Finally, in Virtuelle Mauer/ReConstructing the Wall, I introduced some characters that take you in a time travel through the history of the Berlin Wall. But if you cross over the invisible boundaries of the former Death Strip,, then you fall back into the 80s, the wall appears behind you. So in all three pieces, it’s really about letting you feel like you have the freedom to go anywhere you want and do anything you want to do. But then you must face the consequences of these actions, which might take you to Paradise or they might take you to prison. But you always feel like it was your decision to go there, or to examine this, and therefore you’re sort of complicit with whatever happens to you.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Atmos Sphaerae, 2022. Created with the Atmos Sphaerae VR artwork, 2021.
Creating artworks in Augmented Reality offers the possibility of intervening in institutional art spaces uninvited, as you did at MoMA, the Venice Biennale, or TATE Modern, or within a curated exhibition, as is the case with Unexpected Growth, which was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Can you tell us about the creative process in both cases and your experience with “guerrilla” interventions versus curated exhibitions using the same technology?
Let’s start with We AR in MoMA, an augmented reality project created by Sander Veenhof and Mark Skwarek that took place at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on October 9th, 2010. The iPhone had been around since 2007, as well as other smartphone models, and in the course of 2009 both Mark and Sander had been playing around with the technology and developing AR artworks on mobiles in public spaces. And then they realized they could also geolocate the artworks to have them appear in certain spaces, so they came up with this idea of doing the spectacular intervention at MoMA. I knew Mark from the art circles before we had both shown in the 2009 Boston CyberArts Festival, so he dropped me and many of his artist friends an email saying: “Hey, we’re able to do this now. Send me some content and I’ll put it up and we’ll do a flashmob at MoMA.” They were not asking permission from MoMA. They didn’t know about it, and they couldn’t stop us. At that time, people didn’t realize that location based AR could be used anywhere. But then it turned out that they did find out about it beforehand, because Mark and Sander were doing the intervention as part of a citywide public art festival of psychogeography, so it was publicly announced by the festival all on Twitter. MoMA actually posted a link to the festival and said: “Hey, looks like we’re going to be invaded by AR,” which was very forward thinking and embracing this new development in technology. So, that was incredibly good publicity. It was a really exciting moment, when we realized that there were these possibilities that the new technology was bringing about. I would say this was a path breaking exhibit in the history of media.
After this intervention at MoMA, the artists who took part in it created the group Manifest.AR. We were thinking about where to do the next incursion, and since I live in Munich, which is a six and a half hour beautiful train ride to Venice, I suggested we go to the Venice Biennale in 2011. It was a group of about eight of us. We created virtual pavilions that were located inside the Giardini and at Piazza San Marco, so that people who didn’t want to spend money to enter the Giardini could also experience the artworks in a public space, because the Giardini, with its walls around it is a classically closed curatorial space. The point was that having your work shown at the MoMA or the Biennale is a sign of achievement, of having been able to enter these closed curatorial spaces, but now with AR interventions that was not true anymore, anybody can place their artwork wherever they want. But then people’s reaction was: “Oh, wow, you’re showing in the Venice Bienniale, you’ve made it!” Then we told them we hadn’t been curated and that we were doing this of our own accord, but people would respond: “Oh, that’s even better.” So we thought we were doing this sort of Duchampian breakdown of all sorts of structures that define prominence in the art world. Duchamp exhibited his famous urinal not to say that an artwork becomes an artwork when an artist says it’s an artwork and places it in an art context, but to state that this whole thing is ridiculous.
These interventions gave us a feeling of exhilaration that we could hold our own exhibits anywhere, even though no one in the art world was interested in media art at that moment. And we could also play off site. Because AR is a site-specific medium, you’re always dealing with the site. And that opened up whole new possibilities. Interestingly, shortly after that, George Fifield, the Boston Cyberarts director, arranged our first invitational show at the ICA Boston. This was in April of 2011. The ICA curators didn’t understand how the technology works. They said: “Okay, you can do it on the first floor, but not on the second floor. You can do it in the lobby and outside, but you can’t do it inside of the galleries.” And we had to tell them it doesn’t work that way. The artworks are triggered by a GPS location which has a radius of a mile or so.
As for showing Unexpected Growth at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, it was thanks to Christiane Paul, the adjunct curator of media art at the museum. I have known her for quite a while, I think since about 2002, and she has curated me into many of her shows over the years in different venues, but this was the first time at the Whitney. She had of course done the visionary work of creating Artport, a space for net art supported by the museum, but she still hadn’t placed an AR artwork inside the museum. Then in 2014 she commissioned an AR intervention by Will Pappenheimer, Proxy, 5-WM2A, at the Whitney’s final closing gala for the old Breuer Building. So when she contacted me in 2018 to create an artwork to show at the Whitney, she had already gone through the process of introducing this technology in the museum. She invited me to create an artwork for the terrace, which is 20 by 10 meters in size. Since this was a big show, I needed to make sure that the piece would work properly, so I contacted the people at Layar, the AR app we had used in all our previous interventions, but by then they told me they would shut down their servers, so I had to find a solution. My husband Peter Graf, who is a software developer, told me he could write an app for me. We worked side by side on this project, so I realized he should co-author it with me and he came up with the artist name /p, so now the artwork is in the Whitney collection credited to myself and /p in collaboration. Now the artwork is not officially on view at the museum, but if you download our app and go to the terrace you can still experience it.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Unexpected Growth (Whitney Museum Walk1), 2018. Created with the Unexpected Growth AR app (2018, with /p), commissioned by and in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
There is also the fact that the artworks are invisible, so how did you communicate their existence and solve the technical problems associated with having the proper device, software, and connectivity?
At the Venice Biennale intervention, Sander got in touch with Simona Lodi, director of the Share Festival Turin, and the artist group Les Liens Invisibles, who were together mounting another AR intervention The Invisible Pavilion. We created a common postcard with QR codes to download the app. We also invited people to come to Piazza San Marco and the Giardini on certain days and times and help them experience the artworks. Collaborating with the team from the Share Festival was a huge help, because those of us from outside of Italy had terrible connection issues, and also it was the first Venice Biennale when hordes of people were walking around with their cellphones, overloading the networks. The Vodafone network actually broke down in the Venice area. Gionatan Quintini of Les Liens Invisible loaned me his smartphone to show my work, and this is an example of the kind of collaborative atmosphere that you get in the media art world and that is not that easy to find in the contemporary art world.By connecting our networks with those of Share, we got a lot of publicity for both the interventions in MoMA and in the Venice Biennial, and that put AR in this early time into the media art history books, and therefore into the art canon.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Sponge Space Trash Takeover (Walk1), 2020. Created with the VR space “Sponge Space Trash Takeover” courtesy of Cyan Planet and xR Hub Bavaria.
The artworks in your latest artcast titled Tamiko Thiel: Invisible Nature all deal with different aspects of our intervention of the natural environment. What has been your experience addressing this subject in terms of the balance between the artistic expression and the message you want to convey?
Perhaps because I started out as a product designer, with the Connection Machine being what I consider my first artwork, I am always thinking of my audience and how to communicate with them. When I approach political or social issues, such as climate related problems, I know that the really shocking photographs (for instance, a dead bird whose stomach is full of plastic) give you an immediate emotional jolt, and make you realize that this is a serious problem. But I personally cannot look at those images day after day, time and time again. So, balancing my work as an artist with my desire to communicate, sometimes I think that I should be a journalist, so I could write articles that can go into the details in much more depth. But how often do you reread the same article? So I think that what is truly the value of an artist making work about a subject such as these is that the art work can be exhibited time and time again, in different places around the world. And people might see it again, they may be willing to look at it time and time again, but not if it is something horrible and shocking. I’m traumatized enough by what’s happening in the world, so I’d rather create something that is not traumatizing for people, but at the same time it makes you think.
For instance, Unexpected Growth shows a very colorful, bright coral reef on the terrace of the Whitney. And when you look at it more closely, you realize this beautiful coral reef is made out of virtual plastic garbage. So people are confronted with something that is really beautiful, but after a while they realize that they are surrounded by garbage. So my strategy is to seduce people with a strong visual composition that is captivating. And then, when I’ve got their attention, I let them figure out that there is actually something else going on here, if you actually spend the time to look at it.
Video by Tamiko Thiel, Evolution of Fish – Anthropocene Daze #1, 2019. Created with the AR app Evolution of Fish (2019, with /p).
Serafin Álvarez is an artist and researcher based in Barcelona, who explores themes and concepts associated with liminality, non-human otherness, the journey into the unknown and changes in the perception of reality; and how these are imagined and depicted in contemporary popular culture, with a particular interest in science fiction and fantasy film and video games. Encompassing 3D animation and interactive simulated environments, sculpture and installation, his work has been exhibited internationally.
The work of Serafín Álvarez has been featured in Niio in the artcasts Worlding with the Trouble (curated by Fabbula) and Heterotopias, alongside other international artists. The recent artcast Places of Othernessbrings together four of his works, spanning the latest five years of his career. On the occasion of this presentation, we talked with him about the process and concepts behind his work.
You have stated that the inspiration for Maze Walkthrough comes from the experience of going from one airport to another while you were producing a previous project. Would you say that both airports and videogame environments are “non-places” meant for endless circulation?
Indeed, airports have often been associated with Marc Augé’s concept of non-place, but I would not put, generally speaking, video game environments in that category, since they are, for many players, places where meaningful relationships are established. In any case, when I did these works I was not so much thinking about the concept of non-place as about liminality. In both cases I looked at certain architectural spaces (corridors and airports) as spaces for transit, circulation, change. Spaces that have not been designed to be inhabited, but to connect other spaces.
You are interested in science fiction as an exploration of the Other. In your work, this Other would be the space itself, strange and unpredictable?
One of the things that interests me most about science fiction is the speculation about the unknown and the ways of representing it. That unknown can be an Other (understood as someone different, whether human or of another species), but it can also be a place, a state of consciousness, a mutation, and so on. In my work I have looked at multiple resources that science fiction uses to represent what we don’t know: visual effects, soundtracks, costumes… but you are right that in most of my work there is an important spatial component, an active interest in spaces of otherness.
In your works you seek to create an experience, which becomes immersive by allowing the viewer to wander freely through the spaces and free themselves from the impositions of gameplay. How do the sculptural elements you create for exhibitions in physical spaces participate in this immersion?
My work is predominantly digital, but when I exhibit it I’m very interested in its physical dimension. I like sculpture very much and I try to incorporate in my own work that physical relationship between bodies that I enjoy so much when looking at physical objects in the real world. On the other hand, digital work can become a bit schizophrenic, because you can edit and polish details ad infinitum, try one thing, undo it and try another one endlessly. Working with matter is different, it allows me and encourages me to be more intuitive, to let myself go, to establish a less controlling relationship with the materials, and I personally think that brings very positive things to my work.
Serafín Álvarez, A Full Empty, 2018
You have distributed your work as downloadable files that the public can buy for whatever price they want, even for free. What has this kind of distribution meant for you? Do you see other ways of distribution that would be conducive to your work, particularly because of its identification with the language of videogames?
I have two pieces of interactive software on itch.io, an interesting platform for independent video games with a very active community. I usually work with physical exhibitions in mind, but distributing part of my work digitally has allowed me to reach other audiences; it has given me a certain autonomy to show and make my work known without having to depend exclusively on institutions, galleries and curators; and being attentive to digital platforms for art distribution has allowed me to get to know the work of a large number of very interesting artists who are active online although they may not have as much presence in the conventional channels of contemporary art.
It seems that Maze Walkthrough has been better understood in the field of videogames than in the contemporary art world. Do you think this is due more to the aesthetics or to its “navigability”?
I don’t know if better, but different. When I published Maze Walkthrough it was reviewed in some media outside the field of contemporary art and it was very well received. Many people wrote to me, many people commented and shared both the piece of software and the collection of corridors at scificorridorarchive.com that I made while conceiving the project. Audiences around science fiction and video games have always interested me, and that such audiences valued my work was something that filled me with joy. One of the things I liked most about that reception was to see people enjoying the piece in a different way than the contemporary art audiences I’m used to, which tend to look at the work in a reflexive way, pondering possible interpretations. I’m very interested in hermeneutics, but it was refreshing to also see people enjoying Maze Walkthrough more from experience than intellect.
Serafín Álvarez, Maze Walkthrough, 2014
A Full Empty, the video you presented as part of the artcast curated by Fabbula, shows a world in which nature has run its course after an industrial era that fell into decay. Do you see in this work an interest in dealing with environmental issues through simulation, or do you continue to explore spaces linked to science fiction narratives?
Both. This work is based on two fictional texts: Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker and, especially, the novel Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers on which Tarkovsky based his film. Both texts are about a forbidden zone to which humans have restricted access and which develops its own ecology, and while making that video I found myself thinking about what the planet would be like once we are no longer here.
You are interested in freeing the viewer from the tyranny of the camera, but there’s actually an interesting aspect to the camera movement in your work. Normally it’s a forward traveling sequence, following the logic of video game exploration, but in A Full Empty it is, conversely, a backward traveling, which gives it a more cinematic character. Is this a conscious decision in the creation of this piece? Have you thought about working more with camera movements in future works?
Yes, of course it was a very conscious decision. In Roadside Picnic the scientists who study the forbidden zone explore it with great care, because it is full of deadly traps. They have developed hoverboots with a “route memorizer” system that, once they have finished an exploration journey into the zone, return them back on their steps in an automated way to reduce the danger, undoing on the way back the exact same route they did on the way out and therefore without falling into the traps already bypassed. The video is influenced by this automated journey of return after having entered a strange place in search of something.
I’m sure I’ll continue working with camera movements, it’s something that fascinates me. Right now I’m involved in developing live simulations that are much less cinematic than the video A Full Empty, but I still think and care a lot about camera movements, no matter how simple they are. Moving the camera is a wonderful expressive resource.
Serafín Álvarez, Now Gone, 2020
In Now Gone you adopt a different aesthetic, which resembles the point clouds created by 3D scanners, to show a mysterious cave inspired by the film Prometheus and the universe of H.R. Giger. What led you to this aesthetic and how would you link this piece to your other works?
The link with other works is a similar interest in the journey, in the passing from one place (or condition, or state…) to another. Also, the arrangement of “intertextual elements”, vestiges that refer to fictional stories as if they were a kind of archaeological objects… although it is true that the aesthetics of Now Gone is different from my previous works. Now Gone was born from an invitation to participate in a publication, Today is a Very Very Very Very Very Very Very Gummy Place by Pablo Serret de Ena and Ruja Press. They sent me a very ambiguous map and asked me to make something from it. My proposal was to build an environment with video game technology. Since the publication was going to be edited in black and white I started to try things using this limitation in a creative manner and, after several experiments, something that worked very well for what I wanted to achieve was to render the images using a 1-bit dither (a graphic technique in which there are only black or white pixels organized in such a way that it produces the illusion of grays, similarly to Ben Day dots in comics). I’m very pleased with the result, in fact I soon returned to a very similar aesthetic in a later work, A Weeping Wound Made by an Extremely Sharp Obsidian Knife, and I’m currently looking at different ways to develop it further in the future.
Fabbula specializes in curating Virtual Reality projects and immersive experiences. In relation to your work, how do you see the possibilities offered by current VR devices for the dissemination of digital artworks?
At the moment I haven’t seriously started working with VR. As I mentioned in a previous question, I’m very interested in the relationship between the work, the viewer and the physical space, but generally speaking VR experiences tend to remove that physical space. I’m sure there are interesting ways to incorporate it, but for the moment I haven’t worked in that direction yet.
This interview is part of a series of three editorial articles that dive deeper into the different software, technicalities, and processes that go into creating digital artworks, in order to offer our readers a deeper understanding of digital art as a medium.
We speak to Eric Lerner as part of a collaboration with Render Studio, a collective creative experimentation for a digital reality. Render Studio is inspired by art, design, nature and technology and aims to explore dimensions of virtuality, interactivity and motion. Eric Lerner’s series Tokonomais featured on Niio this month.
Eric Lerner is a new media artist, animation director and professor at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design where he teaches art and animation for video games.
Part of your artistic practice deals with 3D animation. Could you give us an in-depth analysis of this digital art technique? Where do you see 3D animation going in the next five years?
3D animation or CGI animation refers to many different techniques and values but often will have similarity within the use of virtual “polygons” to calculate and produce an image. This constantly evolving technical practice has seen use in practically every modern art form; from film to games, graphic design to art. It is an extremely wide and flexible field of techniques that can produce a limitless variety of different styles, therefore It is difficult to lay clear borders or boundaries to 3D as an art form.
For me, the ability to create realistic looking imagery of physically impossible scenarios is where the true power and interest lays. This has of course been in use for cinema and VFX for many years but the types of narrative popular cinema usually portrays very often lacks the type of deep meaning and context that art makes possible; through more complex forms of expression, new fantastical realities can be created and used to invoke and provoke thought and experience, and with the democratization and wide availability of 3D tools, artists anywhere are free to explore their style and visual expression in new and exciting ways. However, as the benchmark for quality rises, the entry level for artists to find their initial steps within these techniques rapidly becomes less achievable, requiring extensive study and practice; this might distance newcomers to the media. I would suggest to them that exploration of unique, even unconventional style, would be more important than technical prowess.
Eric Lerner, RedBrickWall1, 2022.
We are currently seeing a huge advancement in real time 3D rendering which allows for interactive media. To achieve the visual fidelity of what recently was only available to highly resourceful creation agents through pre-rendered processes only. This is already providing the gaming industry with hollywood style visuals for video games, but also has huge potential for art installations and exhibitions to create extremely immersive experiences that engulf viewers in an alternative reality.
Looking even further, I believe we’ll see these tools become available in more mobile setups such as smartphones and small headgear combinations. Furthermore, the interactive possibilities and AI generated content will be able to provide real time creation of completely unique experiences; entire detailed worlds created by direction of artists and then explored by viewers and users, possibly even as a one of a kind, single use experience – quite similar to our own reality.
Eric Lerner, TokonomaI, 2022.
Towards the creation of many of your artworks you create 3D animations which you then turn into live action videos? Could you elaborate on some of the complexities of this practice and your use of a handheld camera technique?
A process I’ve been researching and expanding on involves first shooting a live action clip, usually of empty (of people) urban or forest areas. Later I will “track” the footage (this is a process that follows hundreds of points of movement in a video in order to mimic the original movement of the camera, through a mathematical process of figuring out the parallax strength in the scene, thus producing a sort of “depth map” of the film scene). With a digital copy of the original camera movement, I can “film” 3D objects within CGI creation environments using the same exact movement of the original, often handheld footage. This eventually produces the illusion of the 3D object being present during the original shoot, even if the object itself doesn’t appear realistic in its own nature.
While this technique has been long used in film VFX, I find that it can bring to life many different types of narrative (with my favorite being surreal imagery) and its magic is quite captivating. While a relatively high end technique, it can still be produced by a single artist, and its creative possibilities are extremely interesting; it brings to life impossible objects and affects the mind very effectively, producing a magical realism that can turn everyday scenes into dreamscapes.
Eric Lerner, Pools of ReflectionI, 2022.
Could you share some of your early experiences working in the NFT space, and provide us with your anticipations of NFTs as an accepted traditional art medium?
When NFT first started getting attention in the art world, I was very excited by the prospect that it promised a new form of livelihood for artists, specifically for more left-field, alternative arenas of art (alternative to fine arts, mostly). Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that a lot of people were entering the field as a quick cash grab and a lot of artists were being exploited, had their work stolen or just became obsessed with the financial aspect of this new “business” as a “get rich quick” scheme. While the technology itself was interesting, it was being used in poor taste and the original promise was mostly lost.
I feel the technology can eventually be used in decent (morally) ways but i’m not sure we are there yet. As more and more companies jump on the NFT bandwagon to use in their services, products and promotions, it’s unclear where the public’s view of NFTs will end up, but for art, either fine arts or more broad, alternative fields of art, there is still a hopeful promise for creators and collectors but more importantly, experiences of art that are yet to come to be.
Eric Lerner, Pools of ReflectionII, 2022.
In Modernist Painting, Clement Greenberg suggests that the role of the Modern Artist is to bring attention to the flatness of the surface because the essence of visual arts is the optical experience. Today, through advanced technologies and softwares artists are able to create three dimensional pictorial spaces. Is it your opinion that contemporary artists working in the digital space should create experiences of visual worlds within themselves pushing our everyday reality into new realms introduced by web3 and the metaverse?
Yes, as I previously stated, the advancement of technology and its ability to create believable and emotional 3D experiences, for example, might be the starting point for a new breed of artwork where the experience is far from a single image or even a single interactive experience but rather a unique and personal experience each time it is activated, with a much broader scope than previously imagined.
That said, and pardon the controversial statement, but I find currently web3 promises to be extremely familiar, reminding me of grandiose promises made when web 2.0 was “introduced”. The main difference being the actual possibility of these ideas to come to life with technology reaching a point where they become possible. But to be truly interesting, I find these ideas need to go deeper into realms of data that might not be completely acceptable by the masses meant to enjoy them – either because they are built upon personal data or because they expose hidden truths; either way i believe these experiences have got to be personalize to be effective, otherwise they remain very 2.0 or just end up as good storytelling, which isn’t new but always very, very effective.
Eric Lerner, Gabriel in the Dreamscape, 2022.
You have stated that in the creation of your artworks you wish to explore the craft of art making in itself, and that through this investigation you are able to push the boundaries of what is possible. Could you elaborate further on this process in which your subject matter comes from technical ideas and your aims when creating new artworks?
When looking at this process in its truthful form, it is mostly a process of using the technical boundaries as limitations in order to create a “fenced” playground, which counterintuitively very often brings creative freedom. I will often learn a new technique, and my immediate thought would be: “How can I use this in a surprising way?”. For me, this usually directs into areas of magical realism where impossible events are plainly portrayed; So I will often use a technique to create unexpected yet [hopefully] intriguing moments, a tiny bit of awe for the viewer.
Unfortunately, this will often not do much in terms of context or narrative, areas which I find only inspiration derived from other narrative sources or life experiences can bring any meaningful context. This is where having your head stuck in a technical realm does little to help, or maybe even bring damage to the process. I aim to grow in these areas and I push my students to emphasize their efforts on these areas as I find them the most meaningful in a visual experience.